NASA spacecraft will aim straight for sun next year

Herbert Rhodes
June 3, 2017

The Parker Solar Probe will come within 4 million miles of the sun's surface. Terming as the first ever mission the Sun, NASA in its earlier released had mentioned that its first Solar Probe Plus spacecraft (SPP) is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2018.

The craft will collect vital information about the life of stars and their weather events and will help scientists improve predicting risky solar flares. For the spacecraft to successfully conduct its mission, it is protected by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 cm) carbon-composite shield.

'Solar Probe+ will make a fundamental contribution to our ability to characterize and forecast the radiation environment in which future space explorers will work and live.

The probe will fly by Venus about eight weeks after launch and make its closest approach about 16 weeks into the mission. "I like to call it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun", Fox said.

Traveling at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft will move fast - like going from New York City to Tokyo in less than a minute.

Why does the solar wind speed up?

Parker also theorised an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, the corona, which is, contrary to what was expected by physics laws, hotter than the surface of the Sun itself.

Dr. Eugene Parker, University of Chicago astrophysicist listens during the NASA announcement on its first mission to fly directly into the sun's atmosphere at the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. May 31, 2017.

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The probe, which has been in the works since 2008, will reach the Sun's outermost atmosphere, called the corona-the Latin word for "crown", and American word for "beer".

Wednesday, the 89-year-old Parker was awarded NASA's distinguished public service medal, the highest form of recognition the agency awards to nonemployees, for his lifetime of scientific achievement.

Parker's conception of a solar wind was controversial when his article was published in 1958, but it is now widely understood that the bursts of electrically charged particles are responsible for Earth's dazzling northern lights.

Many of us take the sun for granted, giving it little thought until it scorches our skin or gets in our eyes. The corona is known to be hotter than the surface of the sun-but we don't know why.

Normally, NASA waits to rename its missions after launch, but the space agency made a decision to break protocol this time since Parker's work has been so instrumental for the spacecraft's mission.

The mission, which is part of NASA's Living With a Star program that is meant to explore aspects of the sun-Earth system, is now on track for a launch that can occur sometime during a 20-day window that opens July 31, 2018.

At this point, the Solar Probe team is building and testing the spacecraft.

Robin Seemangal has been reporting from the newsroom at NASA's Kennedy Space Center for the last two years for the Observer with by-lines also in Popular Science and Wired Magazine. I'm sure that there will be some surprises.

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